Double-Crossed (USA Day 38)
Having had a day to scab up and reflect, here are a couple of observations about yesterday’s crash: I’m placing significant blame on the tar-clogged tyres, out of which I dug a horrific amount of gunk this morning. All the grooves had filled up, meaning the treads were utterly useless. We were riding on perfectly smooth rubber. Also, those gravel collections on junctions are awful, because if you go tentatively you’re wobbly enough to slip over as you turn, and if you try to increase your inertia by going fast, and still fall over, you’re done for. Finally, it says a lot that after getting up from the crash, the first thing I checked, before my shredded elbow, before even my gravel-grazed bike, were the four bottles of beer in a front pannier. (They were intact. Thanks for asking.)
We rose later than usual for breakfast with our wonderful hosts: a couple who farm pigs, consult for the UN, travel the world and, like so many WarmShowers pals, treated us like family. What made leaving even harder was the wild swimming pond in their backyard, with its odd strata of water temperatures which gave diving in a sensation similar to licking through the layers of a gobstopper.
The first half of our ride today took us down railside cycle paths that cut through cornfields and offered little shade, but they were fast and the surface made for quick progress despite the oppressive heat. The only real impacts of the crash were a sore palm that made bike handling a bit uncomfortable and a little fatigue from a painful night’s sleep. No serious injuries. Roadworks and resurfacing required us to make a few re-routes, which tried our collective patience so much more than usual because of the sun. But as we rounded a corner and found ourselves pedalling south alongside the hazy Mississippi, having clocked off fifty miles in no time at all, I found myself choked with the momentousness of it all. On the other side of this river waited Missouri, a short jaunt south to St Louis, and a rest day. We’d made short work of what could have been a tough day.
And then we descended onto the entrance ramp to the famous, pedestrianised, Chain of Rocks bridge, to find it completely underwater.
We laughed, then turned around to see a crafty little massive thunderstorm approaching from the south, and briskly attempted to cycle along the riverside path to the next bridge, only to find that path utterly flooded too.
Back, then, the way we’d come, but only halfway because a farm road would take us to the main road…if it weren’t submerged in three feet of water. Fearsome lightning bolts crackled down on all sides, and we attempted calm, walking our bikes along a tiny sliver of a grassy ridge, surrounded on both sides by flood. A spooked mother deer and her fawn sprang away from us, as trapped as we were, and bounded straight across the distant main road despite our panicked protestations. Thank goodness, they were unscathed. We, too, crossed the road without being hit by a car, then rode hard around seven sides of an octagon to find the road approach to the Chain of Rocks bridge: an apocalyptic highway with a dingy motel and a café boasting waffles but with no visible customers.
At this point at the Mississippi, the water splits into two channels, so we crossed the first bridge eagerly under the looming storm clouds, descending onto Chouteau island which was almost entirely flooded too. However, we reached the end of its only dry road to discover that the main bridge, the only one that would take us across to Missouri, was closed. Now, I’ve done my research. It was open yesterday. Tomorrow’s the national holiday. We were there mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. There’s no reason why it’d be closed, there were no signs, there was no way around it but all the way back again, and this being the fourth time we’d been turned back on ourselves in as many miles, we were starting to get a little riled.
This re-route was unpleasant. Our only remaining option, lacking trust as we did by this point in the riverside trail, was eight miles on the hard shoulder of a loud and dirty highway with no redeeming features and intermittent rain showers. I won’t lie: we did try once more to re-join the riverside path, but guess what happened? Clearly this isn’t a dialogue, but also clearly you’re correct.
So we finally crossed into Missouri, which was also flooded and also required us to re-route twice more, before finally we gave up and rode the main traffic street all the way through St Louis, to our place for the night. This is the sort of day that would have made wrecks of us both a few weeks ago, and yes, we had our wobbles, but we’re clean, sleepy and excited for some fireworks tomorrow. Crossing the Mississippi was huge, especially because the cheeky river tried everything to block us and we still prevailed. The next challenge will be the Ozarks, but before that we’re going to celebrate getting rid of the British by watching things explode.